Now that we have explored colour, let’s think about composition. Composition is about how the parts of an artwork are put together to form the whole. Composing involves arranging, placing, organizing, configuring, laying out, planning, putting together, shaping, framing, constituting… The compositional elements are what guide, or lead, our eye around the artwork. What are some of those compositional elements? Here are a few important ones:
The focal point. This is the main point of interest; it is what usually attracts the eye first. Most artworks will have one focal point – but there can be two, or even more.
Positioning on the format. Is the subject high, or very low, to one side or the other? Too comfortably in the centre, or breaking the edge of the format?
Directional lines.Compositional or directional lines guide your eye through the different parts of the picture. (The S-curve is one example you might sometimes see – usually leading one’s eye deeper into into the picture.) They are not necessarily actual lines. A figure’s gaze, for example, could send your eye in the direction in which they are looking.
Balance. This refers to how each part of the picture is given “weight” in relation to the other parts. Even asymmetrical compositions involve balance. Shapes don’t have to match in size to be balanced: rather, for instance, a small area of very busy texture can be balanced by a large area of calm;
or one strong, dark tone could be balanced by a strong shape or colour, somewhere else.
Negative spaces. Those spaces in your picture that are between the objects – the “gaps” between the main subjects of interest – are called negative shapes. These are the physical openings, or gaps, in a three-dimensional sculpture. They too must be considered; they play an important role in the structure of the composition.
What we expect to be “negative shapes” can also be the opposite: the sky could be a negative space in some images, but might feature as the main subject in others.
Repetition. Repeating shapes or lines, colours, tones, or textures – in slightly altered form – help bring the picture into a coherent whole.
Proximity. How near to, or far from, each other are the things in the picture? How are they clustered? (Objects should either overlap or be a little apart – not just touch each other at the edge, or their spatial relationship becomes confusing: which is closer to us, which further away?)
Variety. Look for variety in the image, both in depth and scale. The composition is likely to be interesting if there are large forms and small forms; some objects that appear very close and others very far away, as well as those in between.